At Murrimatters, we define complex issues or challenges as ones that keep coming back time after time. Many attempts may have been made to solve them, but little overall ground has been gained. Frequently, models developed in one setting that may be establishing some traction are not transferable to another even though the complex issue being faced appears similar.
The complex challenges faced by the organisations we work with are predominantly social issues. The tenacity of complex challenges and their ability to shift and change in response to attempts to ‘fix’ them has led some people to term them ‘wicked problems’. Often they receive considerable media attention and have a long policy history. We would consider issues such as Domestic Violence, Substance Abuse, Unemployment, Truancy and nonattendance, Indigenous Education, Racism, and Gender inequity to all be examples of complex challenges.
An organisation can also face complex internal challenges. These include employee conflict, change (whether in corporate direction, corporate ownership, departmental shift, or closure and renewal) and a dysfunctional organisational culture.
As a first stage to developing a response, in thinking about the type of challenge faced by an organisation it is often useful to identify whether it is a simple, complicated, complex or chaotic issue as each category benefits from a different approach.
As can be seen from the diagram above, simple and complicated challenges can be dealt with using classic problem solving techniques but complex challenges are unlikely to respond to these. Dynamic and multifaceted, complex challenges are characterised by high levels of time and resourcing and high levels of disagreement and uncertainty. They require responsive social processes which are constantly assessed, fine-tuned, created and adapted by a robust organisational culture.
Using Engoori as its central process, Murrimatters assists your organisation to develop a robust culture, a deeper understanding of the complex issue being faced, and the responsive practices and tools required to address the challenge.
Graphic courtesy of David Spillman